Nancy Wilkie might not have discovered her passion for archaeology if one of her professors hadn’t invited her to work with him on an archaeological project when she was a graduate student in classics at the University of Minnesota.
“He sent a letter asking me to meet him in Kalamata on a specific date. Back then it wasn’t possible to call him in Greece, so I just got on a plane and went,” says Wilkie. “When I got to the airport, he wasn’t there! So I took a bus into town, and as I was looking for a hotel, I found him having coffee at a café. When it comes to fieldwork, you just have to go with the flow.”
That’s an approach she has modeled for students throughout her adventurous career in archaeology, which has included doing fieldwork at sites around the world and leading off-campus study programs in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Wilkie, who retired this year as the William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology, and the Liberal Arts and as director of Carleton’s archaeology program, also has invited students to join her on archaeological projects—even if they weren’t pursuing a related career or major. “Just like me, many students don’t realize how much they will love fieldwork until they try it,” she says.
The Voice asked Wilkie to dig into a Carl Quiz.
Years at Carleton: 39
Why you love teaching: I get to watch students’ confidence grow during their four years at Carleton.
Favorite pastime: Cruising on Lake Superior in our sailboat, which is named Tiamat after the Babylonian goddess of the sea.
Current project: Finishing a book with Carleton geology professor Mary Savina about archaeological sites we discovered during a survey of a little-known region of northern Greece.
Most important tools for an archaeologist:
- Good research partner or team
- Reliable map
- Ability to speak the local language. Getting to know the local residents and gaining their trust is an essential element in reconstructing the history and landscape evolution in the area where you are working.
Biggest surprise of your career: Working with 20-year-olds made me feel as though I wasn’t getting any older—but I was!
Retirement plans: Spend time with my husband, complete publication of my various research projects, and continue leading Carleton Alumni Adventures. This fall I will be lecturing on a cruise from Venice to Rome, and leading a tour of east Africa focused on early hominid sites.
Reality check for Indiana Jones fans: Much of archaeology involves working in a deep trench, in hot weather, with no wind, and lots of bugs. The best part of fieldwork is the opportunity to become immersed in another culture.
Favorite trip: The last place I’ve been.